WRI Indonesia helped secure “mukim customary forest” designations for more than 22,000 hectares of land, establishing legal land rights for more than 50,000 people from Indigenous and local communities.

The Challenge

Many of Indonesia’s Indigenous peoples and local communities are dependent on forests for their livelihoods, resources and cultural traditions. It’s the reason they’re such good environmental stewards, sustainably managing their landscapes for generations. Yet they often lack ownership or even legal rights to use the forests they inhabit. This leaves forests vulnerable to exploitation from miners, logging companies and other outside interests.

For six years, local governments and organizations representing Indigenous people and communities in Aceh Province, Indonesia have submitted forest recognition proposals to Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Yet they’ve been largely rejected due to unclear policies between Aceh’s different jurisdictions.

WRI’s Role

Through research, funding and communication, WRI Indonesia helped secure communities’ land rights in eight mukims, or specific areas managed by traditional communities, in Aceh Province.

WRI fostered a collaborative process among provincial and regency governments, journalists, academics (including the Research Center for Law, Islam and Customary Study at Syiah Kuala University) and indigenous community networks (including Aceh’s customary community network, Jaringan Komunitas Masyarakat Adat Aceh). Together, these groups identified issues and bottlenecks in Aceh’s social forest recognition program.

WRI also provided financial support for research on a mukim customary forest model and worked with various media channels to publicize the findings. WRI Indonesia supported key stakeholders in Aceh to directly present and discuss the model to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. The multi-party approach, with assurances from WRI that the research and recommendations were neutral and scientifically grounded, were effective at influencing policymakers.

The Outcome

Through what became known as the “Mukim Customary Forest Model,”  eight customary forests were designated in Aceh, Indonesia in 2023, spanning an area of more than 20,000 hectares. This legal designation secures land rights for more than 50,000 people from Indigenous and local communities. These forests, and the model overall, were endorsed by Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

Eight additional proposals are undergoing further reviews. If approved, the total customary forest designation will expand to 56,988 hectares.

The “Mukim Customary Forest Model” has great potential to be scaled up to the 784 mukims in Aceh, as well as throughout Indonesia and other forested countries.